“Well then—er—Walter, what do you want me up here for?”
Walter seemed insistent on avoiding the subject, and said:
“Have you joined the police? I haven’t seen you about the bank recently.”
“No, I haven’t. I’ve been ill.” Max replied uneasily. “You remember, I tried to join directly after my birthday, but I’m not tall enough.”
Walter stopped in the middle of the stairs, wheeled about, and took a hard look at Max.
“They discriminate against height in the force, do they? Pity we can’t trade. Why didn’t you just try to stick your neck out a little further?”
“It didn’t occur to me.”
–From The Good Adventurers, by Lydia Carns
We first make the acquaintance of Max Bentley in 1913, when he is nineteen. He works as a clerk at Bertram’s, has a history with Walter Gilbreth, and would rather be doing anything in the world but detective work. But he’d probably like to tell you about that himself.
When and where were you born?
February 27, 1894, at the workhouse infirmary in Lambeth. My mother was eligible for a pension, but it wasn’t enough to support her, and that’s why she went to the workhouse. Folks say that it was a bad place to be. It likely was, but I never knew the difference. It was the only world I know of until I was almost eighteen. I attended the schools during the day, but until I was too old, at night I came back to Kennington Lane, as Mother didn’t want to be parted from me. In case you’re interested, Charlie Chaplin lived there for a little while I was there. It goes to show that a man can rise from poverty if he sets his mind to it. (Not that I’d ever be a comic-actor. There are other ways.)
Why did you leave?
My mother passed away. She told me to leave when that happened. I wouldn’t believe her when she said that she would die, but she did, and all I could do in her honor was what she had asked of me.
What is your life’s ambition?
When I was a boy, I planned to earn enough to support my mother. I had no particular idea how; everybody told me I’d do well in the service because I could speak proper, but I had no interest in that. When I was done with school I put extra hours into oakum-picking, and later, when I was older and stronger, breaking rocks. I earned a few pounds in the end, but it all went to supporting me until I found steady work after I left. My plan was to join the police force, like my father, who was a bobby. But I wasn’t tall enough, so I took a job keeping track of other people’s money at Bertram’s of London. I like doing that now, if only Sir Walter and the rest would let me alone long enough to do it.
How tall are you?
Not tall enough, according to the police force.
If you could meet anyone, who would it be?
My father. He died before I was born. I hope that I will meet him in Heaven someday.
Is there someone who holds a special place in your heart?
Well, yes. Lady Anthea. I don’t have any business loving her, though.
What was the best day of your life?
Good days always come with mixed feelings. The day Lady Anthea gave me her rose ranks pretty high, I’d say, but there was still that talk with his lordship afterward. Bringing Peter back to London was bittersweet because of his lordship’s health. So I think the best was the day I was given an honorary place in the constabulary.
What was the worst day of your life?
The day my mother died. Also, the day Sir Walter made me a detective.
Speaking of that, what led Sir Walter to believe that you would make a good detective?
Ask him. For the life of me, I don’t know.
Who is your best friend?
Ramsey. [Lord Bertram’s secretary] Sir Walter’s a braw lad too, despite the detective business. You’d think he’d want nothing to do with me, seeing as how his father killed mine, but instead he’s poured effort into helping me, even if our ideas vastly differ.
What is your full name?
My full name is Maxfield Thomas Bentley. Maxfield was my mother’s family name. Thomas was my father’s name. Bentley is my surname, so I can’t help that. Miss Carns thinks, for some strange reason that I cannot understand, that I am named after someone’s dogs. I beg to contradict. As you can see, I clearly was not.
“I’ll send you word if we find—your walking stick.” she faltered. “Good morning—Max.”
Max! She had never before called him by that familiar name. He took the delicate hand she extended to him and bent over it. The next thing, he had forgotten himself and pressed it reverently to his lips.
–The Good Adventurers